by Pat Breme, RCE, CIPS
Chief Executive Officer
Let me start off by dispelling a misconception regarding filing an ethics complaint with FAAR. THERE IS NO FEE, however, members must complete a form, attach a narrative detailing the situation and file within 180 days of the occurrence or knowledge of the occurrence. Additionally, there is no fee if the complaint is processed through the Citation System. The mediation process has no fee.
There are, however, fees for the following-
- A $250 Processing Fee is imposed on a member who is found in violation of an Article of the Code.
- A Broker who requests an arbitration and the responding broker are levied a $350 Filing Fee. The party who prevails is refunded the Filing Fee.
- Appealing an Ethics Hearing Decision- $250
- Requesting a Procedural Review- $250
- Dispute Resolution Fee- $250 from the primary parties
The fees are not a revenue source to FAAR, but covers staff time involved in the administration of each service- scheduling and attendance at meetings, paperwork, research/procedure compliance, communications, etc.
What happened to the golden rule?
Pathways to Professionalism- Do unto others…
Created by the National Association of REALTORS®, Pathways to Professionalism, is a useful, common sense guide to simple courtesy. For example,
– Never allow buyers to enter listed property unaccompanied.
– Respond to other agents’ calls, faxes, and e-mails promptly and courteously.
The Law of the REALTOR® world… The Code of Ethics
The Code of Ethics is a REALTOR’S® compass for professional behavior. It is composed of 17 Articles covering duties to clients and customers, the public and to REALTORS®. The Code goes beyond common sense niceties to what REALTORS® pledge to abide by in their business activities. For REALTORS® it is the law!
The short sale/foreclosure market has spawned many transaction difficulties, odd scenarios, and stress. The Code has been twisted, misinterpreted and in some cases, ignored altogether.
Observing unprofessional behavior…
Filing an ethics complaint- Is it really snitching?
Some describe filing an ethics complaint as ratting out, snitching, and view the whole process as unsavory. For the Complainant, time is spent on writing a narrative, citing Articles and gathering information. From the Respondent’s point of view, time is spent on gathering documents to defend his or her motives and actions.
When a complaint is sent to FAAR, a Grievance Committee meeting is convened to examine the complaint to see if it has been properly filed. They do not review the information from the Respondent. The Grievance Committee bases its decision on the facts of the complaint and the final question they ask themselves is, “If the facts alleged in the complaint were taken as true on their face, is it possible that a violation of the Code of Ethics occurred?”
In most cases the complaint is moved on to a hearing because the answer is usually, yes. Why doesn’t the Grievance Committee look at the Respondent’s view of the situation? When a group has both sides presented it is too easy to draw conclusions and determine outcomes. That is not the role of the Grievance Committee. It acts like a Grand Jury and only looks at the complaint’s viability. It can also dismiss a complaint.
The Citation System
With the adoption of the Citation System, the Grievance Committee may decide a complaint fits the criteria and ask the Respondent whether he or she wants the issue to proceed to a hearing or, without admitting guilt, pay a fine and/or attend mandatory education for the alleged violation. The program only covers certain Articles of the Code- 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 14, 16. The fines range from $150 to $950.
Complaints coming from other participating Associations- PWAR, DAAR, NVAR, BRAR and GPAAR, will be treated in the same way as outlined. Is it like getting a traffic ticket? Yes. The Respondent accepting the fine avoids an uncomfortable and often times a consuming hearing process. The Complainant still believes justice has been served by drawing attention to unprofessional behavior.
The Ombudsman Program
The Ombudsman Program in its simplest definition is informal telephone mediation. In some cases it can address and solve minor complaints from the public. The ombudsman can also solve inter-REALTOR® conflicts before they become serious problems. Some complaints do not allege specific articles of the NAR Code of Ethics and many times they are transactional, technical and procedural questions that can be addressed by communication. Like a mediator, an ombudsman helps parties find solutions that everyone can be happy with.
Where’s my commission?
Another service the REALTOR® Association offers is arbitration of contractual disputes. Most often disputes are over commissions- who was the procuring cause of the sale? This is a broker-to-broker issue but the agents who are party to the transaction are involved and usually present at the hearing. There are no cookie cutter answers to an arbitration involving procuring cause. The answer to “who did the work” question is colored by many things, such as, client behavior, lapses in service, lack of communication between all parties, etc. Some disagreements can be resolved and the formal process averted if brokers are willing to agree to a resolution.
Mediation, a reasonable compromise
FAAR offers mediation to the parties after the Grievance Working Group has determined an issue is an arbitral matter or has determined that an ethics complaint needs to advance to a hearing. Both parties must agree to come to the table to try to resolve the matter. If mediation fails or one party declines the offer to mediate, the case moves on to the hearing process.
Due process is the goal of the hearing because both sides have an opportunity to present their case, call their witnesses, and cross-examine. Only after both the Complainant and Respondent have their say does a panel of peers decide whether a violation has occurred. It is a fair process and much is disclosed during the process. The truth usually rises to the surface. If an agent is found in violation the panel serves a disciplinary action ranges from taking a class on a particular subject to expulsion from the Association.
The Association cannot take a license away, that is the responsibility of the Virginia Real Estate Board, who by the way, has its own complaint process independent of whatever action the Association takes.
Broker to broker problem solving
Often unprofessional activities or commission disputes are resolved if brokers take it upon themselves to communicate with each other. Often problems don’t have to become formal complaint requests for arbitration or worse, not addressed at all, if brokers step in and resolve issues.
Ignoring the problems
Unprofessional behavior ultimately harms everyone in the business. The public, who may be a victim is observing the behavior and forming negative opinions about REALTORS® in general.
If warranted use the professional standards services of the Association but always be mindful of the standards REALTORS® pledge themselves to observe.
I PLEDGE MYSELF
TO PROTECT THE INDIVIDUAL RIGHT OF REAL ESTATE OWNERSHIP
AND TO WIDEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO ENJOY IT;
TO BE HONORABLE AND HONEST IN ALL DEALINGS;
TO SEEK TO BETTER REPRESENT MY CLIENTS
BY BUILDING MY KNOWLEDGE AND COMPETENCE;
TO ACT HONESTLY TOWARDS ALL IN THE SPIRIT OF THE GOLDEN RULE;
TO SERVE WELL MY COMMUNITY, AND THROUGH IT MY COUNTRY;
TO OBSERVE THE REALTORS’® CODE OF ETHICS
AND TO CONFORM MY CONDUCT TO ITS LOFTY IDEALS.
Go to faarmembers.com, Tools, click on Ethics– https://faarmembers.com/ethics